Saying Goodbye, Screen Style

I sign onto Zoom. It’s 8:55. Already the names are popping up in the Waiting Room. I click View Participants. The twins are on, early as usual. There is C, and now M. At 9:00, I sign in. A few more names pop up. A few more squares fill in with smiling first grade faces. Some have brought yet another toy or stuffed animal to class today. Some have their cats or dogs (or both) by their sides. Some screens are on, but no kids. Then they come running. A is not here yet. He’s usually late, but recently he’s been getting online closer and closer to 9:00. At 9:05 we get started. Mid greeting I see A’s name pop up, so I let him in. As we continue saying good morning across the grid, I hear A’s voice. “Mrs. Griffin…..” He says it quietly, but in a way that makes it clear he wants to (needs to) say something.

“Good morning, A. Do you have a question?”

“I’m going back to my school on Monday.” he says. Just straight out like that.

We all stop.

“Oh no!” cries S. “We just lost C yesterday, and now you?!”

I’m glad that S has jumped in because I’m caught off guard. I know going back to school is what’s best for A. I’ve been talking with the principal of his school and his parents, advocating for more support. I know it’s what’s best, but I can’t stand the thought of losing this boy from our classroom. He’s come such a long way. He’s much more engaged. He’s starting to do the work. He’s even doing some of the work that I assign for the afternoon. I think he’s even stopped watching video games during my instruction! He’s an essential part of this community.

I jump back in. “A. That is going to be great! You are going to love being back at school. We are really going to miss you, your kind ways, your sense of humor, and your amazing Flipgrids! That’s when I feel my throat tighten. I hear my voice crack, just a bit. That’s when one of my students says, “Mrs. Griffin, it sounds like you are going to cry.” I rally every bit of strength I have so that I don’t completely lose it in front of this screen of squares, this grid of 10 first graders.

“Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye,” I said.

Take it Slow

I’m not a patient person, so when I sprained my ankle and it didn’t get better quickly, I was not happy. First I ignored it. “I’m sure it will be fine.” I told my husband. I iced it. I raised it. I rested it. But after four weeks and only minimal improvement, it became quite evident that the ankle was not going to heal itself.

I made an appointment with my orthopedic doctor. He took X-rays and gave me the good news that nothing looked too concerning. He gave me a more supportive brace and a prescription for physical therapy. “Sprains can take a looooong time to heal,” he said, “Be patient.” I’m trying to be patient. I’ve started physical therapy. I’m doing my exercises morning, noon, and night. It hurts to stretch my ankle. It’s sore when I finish a set of exercises. My ankle’s starting to feel a little better, but it’s still sore and weak. I know I am in for the long haul. I know it will get better if I put in the time and effort to do the exercises and keep off the tennis court. I know I’ll be OK. I just have to “take it slow“.

I’m teaching a remote learning class of first graders this year. The early weeks were so hard, painful really. I felt so out of my element. We were told about our assignment at the last minute, and learning about all of the technology, new curriculum information, new systems, and the lack of any clear cut direction was so hard. All of us had days filled with tears, days when we wanted to walk away, and days when we just didn’t think we could do this anymore. In September, the thought of a whole year of teaching remotely did not make me happy.

Now, in the middle of October, I’m limping along. I’m finally beginning to find some sort of rhythm to the day. I’ll be honest, the rhythm is often interrupted by more testing mandates and changes in procedures, or a student who still struggles to find Google Classroom, but it’s feeling better than it felt a month ago. I’m trying to do the work; be prepared, engage students, meet their various needs, meet with my grade level team, complete the necessary assessments and data collection, and keep in touch with my families. I’m putting in the time and effort. Some days are better than others. I’m trying to tell myself that we’ll be OK. I just have to “take it slow”.

Going Phoneless

One of my favorite parts of Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny is when Trixie goes “boneless” as she realizes (but can’t express to her dad) that she has left her stuffed bunny at the laundromat. That word “boneless” describes EXACTLY what little children do when they have one of those meltdowns (or don’t want to get into the car seat when you are in a crazy rush to get to work).

Well this weekend, I went phoneless. Can you imagine? Living for a day (OK, it was only a half day, but still!) without your cell phone? My daughter had to leave her phone at the Apple store to be repaired. Of course I was completely against her going out for the day without a phone, so I did what mothers do…..I gave her mine! That left me…..phoneless.

It was so strange at first. I kept looking for my phone in my purse to see who might have called or texted or to check Instagram or Facebook. Of course when I realized the phone wasn’t there, I felt pretty ridiculous. It was remarkable how many times I drifted over toward my purse throughout the day. It was like there was some kind of magnet. I didn’t count, but I’m sure it was more than four times in an hour in the beginning of the day.

Eventually the magnetic pull seemed to weaken a bit. I started to trust that it was OK not to have to check in with the phone. I actually started to kind of enjoy the freedom. We ran errands, visited my dad, came back home, watched some TV, and all without the need for a phone! No Facebook. No Instagram. No text messages or phone calls. Going phoneless wasn’t so bad. It felt like I was tossing everything to the wind and living the kind of free and fearless life I’ve always dreamed of living.

Just like Trixie gets her bunny back, I did eventually have my phone returned. When my daughter came home, I quickly took the phone and checked for messages and calls. There were only two messages. No calls. I was a little disappointed, to tell you the truth, but I also realized that I should probably go phoneless more often.

Melting Down…..Again

I had a meltdown. OK, it wasn’t the first meltdown. If you want me to be really honest, I’ve had more than a few. OK, it’s on the verge of becoming a habit. I’m alarmed about these meltdowns. This isn’t my normal reaction. I get nervous. I can become frustrated. I cry. But not like this.

This time it was 2:00 on a Friday. I taught my remote first graders in the morning, covered my midday arrival and dismissal duties, helped a teacher get ready for a test session, modeled a reading assessment, grabbed some yogurt, coached a new K teacher, and came to my computer to meet with my colleagues to plan for the computerized testing we would be delivering to our remote first grade students next week. I felt pretty good about the testing. I had attended a review PD, I’ve done the testing before (just not remotely), and I had made sure to go into a kindergarten classroom to watch the kids login so that I was sure I knew what to do when my own students were confused or had trouble and I wasn’t able to see their screens.

That’s when things started….As our meeting started, I shared a few tips I had just learned in the classroom about signing on for the test. I see one of my colleagues shaking her head. “That’s not how it works when we do the test remotely,” she said. There had been changes to the procedures we had received training on a few days before. There were emails that had to be sent to parents (Did I mention that the testing is to start on Monday?). Then there were emails replacing those emails because there had been errors. There were more emails that I hadn’t read yet that explained these new logins and procedures for distance learning.

My colleagues were ahead of me. They had read the emails and even begun to set up their Google Classrooms and slides for next week. I was behind. That anxious feeling began to flutter inside. “Oh, and my tech person says that when the kids sign in, they will probably get an error message that says, “Ooooops!” Just have them click on the red box in the bar and then select the top choice that pops up. That should do it.” What? We already know that kids are going to get an error message when they sign in? That anxious feeling began to build. Less like a flutter, and more like a banging in my chest. I have a lot to learn, and I need to learn it quickly.

I furiously started reading emails and trying to listen to my colleagues at the same time. One email said to have parents help their children with logging in to the test each morning. Hmmm…I have some parents who are working while their children are with me. I don’t know that they are available at 9:30 every day this week. I’ll send them another email. Another part of the email says that we should be prepared for students to take up to thirty minutes just to log in to the test. What? I only have a short day with my students, and this is going to happen every day this week? I’ll have to revise my plans.

It’s Friday, and today, of all days, I have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment. I don’t have time to take this all in. It’s all too much. It’s all coming too fast and too late. I have so much to do. So much to catch up on. I don’t have time to do any of this right now. That’s when it happens. I can feel it…. creeping up, through my chest, into my throat. Now it’s pressing against the back of my eyes. Do I yell? Do I cry? I want to stop it, but I can’t. I have another meltdown. Right there on the screen. I try to sign off, say I have to go, hit the video icon to turn off the camera and quickly mute the mic. But it’s too late. Another meltdown has been added to the list.